Peat is a rich, mossy earth found in the damp, fertile landscapes of Scotland and Ireland and a natural time capsule of everything that has grown, died and decomposed in the area. This is why the region that it’s from is so important.
Different regions create different types of peat, which in turn give different flavours. Islay peat is influenced by the salt air of the Atlantic ocean that surrounds its shores, where Highland peat is made up of the earthy remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest.
So what does this do for whisky? In the whisky-making process, peat fires burned in a kiln infuse smoke in the germinated barley, which in turn imparts a rich, distinct smokiness in the flavour of the finished spirit.
First, the hard top layer of the peat beds is peeled back to reveal the softer peat underneath.
To collect this soft peat, specialist peat cutting tools are required, shaped to slice through the ground and dislodge rectangular blocks of the damp, organic soil, ready to be dried.
In Gaelic, the peat cutting tool is called the ‘tairsgear’ (pronounced ‘tarashker’).
The dried peat is slowly burned in a furnace called a kiln, where the smoke rises to infuse the germinated malt. The amount of phenols absorbed depends on the length of exposure to the peat smoke, which has a direct effect on the taste.
When peat burns, it produces organic compounds known as phenols – these are what give the whisky its smoky taste, and are measured in Phenol Parts per Million (PPM). The higher the PPM, the more intense the initial peat-smoked taste.
Moved from the kiln, the peat smoked malt endures the same mashing, fermentation and distillation process as any other non peat-smoked whisky. The only difference is that the malt used has been peat-smoked. Through this production process to make the spirit, the PPM levels drop to around 1/3rd of the original level in the peat smoked malt.
The type of cask that the peated whisky is matured in and the time that it is matured, greatly affects the finished flavour — ready for tasting. For example, a sherry cask can produce a rich, dry finish.
The combination of cask types used, the time in the casks and the house style of the peated spirit all combine to create our diverse whisky range.
At 500 litres in size, the European Oak ex Oloroso Sherry Cask is considered a big cask, with a low wood/spirit ratio. The cask flavours include dark fruits, dark chocolate and has a rich and heavier mouthfeel.
At 200 litres in size, the American Oak ex Bourbon Cask is a smaller cask with a higher wood/spirit ratio. The cask flavours include vanilla, citrus, coconut and has a sweet, refreshing and lighter style.
Just as there are multiple factors that contribute to the overall tasting notes in whisky, there are also multiple factors that contribute to the specific peat smoke flavour in whisky. Smoke notes are defined by the region of the peat, the new-make spirit of the distillery, the phenol parts per million (PPM) and the maturation process, which creates a completely unique peat smoke flavour profile.
The starting point for any great whisky is the new-make spirit. This is essentially the unaged spirit that comes from the still and is completely unique to every distillery.
We categorise smoke notes as aromatic, earthy, medicinal and smokiness, in referenvce to the types of flavours the peat smoke delivers to the overall tasting notes. The smoke ring is used to communicate the intensity of these smoke notes within each individual expression.
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